Titans hold off Raiders to avoid 0-3 start

AP photo by Mark Zaleski / Tennessee Titans receiver Robert Woods celebrates with Ryan Tannehill after the quarterback ran for a touchdown during Sunday's home game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans finally have their first victory this season.

They think they found the formula for many more, too.

Ryan Tannehill threw for 264 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score, and Tennessee never trailed Sunday, holding on for a 24-22 win against the Las Vegas Raiders, who fell to 0-3.

"We got the ball rolling in the right direction," Tannehill said. "And that was our message all week, is just come out, find a way to win this one game, and we'll get the ball rolling in the right direction and build on it."

Derrick Henry ran for 85 yards and a touchdown, and he added 58 receiving yards on five catches — one off his career high — as the Titans (1-2) avoided their worst start since 2009, when they lost the first six games.

"It's hard to win in this league, and I'm happy that I was able to contribute," said Henry, a two-time NFL rushing leader who missed the back half of the 2021 regular season due to injury. "It's a great team win."

Fourth-year coach Mike Vrabel said the victory will help everyone, especially on a team with high expectations. The Titans went 12-5 last season, repeating as AFC South Division champions and earning the conference's No. 1 seed as they posted a winning record for the sixth year in a row.

"You only get what you fight for in this league," said Vrabel, a three-time Super Bowl champion as a New England Patriots linebacker. "I thought they fought for it today. And I'm happy for them."

The Raiders are off to their worst start since 2018. A week after blowing a 20-point lead and losing to the Arizona Cardinals in overtime, Las Vegas had every chance to get back in this game in the second half as it blanked Tennessee after halftime.

Josh McDaniels, the third full-time Raiders coach to start 0-3, noted the closeness of the games; the three losses are by a combined 13 points, and Las Vegas had chances to win at the end.

"I'm looking for us to try to improve and play a full 60-minute game, where we actually start well, play well in all three phases, see what that looks like. I'm not sure that we've done that yet," said McDaniels, who took over a team that went 10-7 last season under Jon Gruden and interim coach Rich Bisaccia and reached the playoffs as a wild card.

Titans safety Kevin Byard, a two-time All-Pro, celebrated his 100th regular-season game by picking off a Derek Carr pass in the end zone with 9:22 left. Kristian Fulton broke up a pass to Raiders receiver Mack Hollins in the end zone with 3:33 left.

Trailing 24-16, the Raiders converted on fourth-and-15 and fourth-and-10. Carr then hit Hollins with a 9-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 1:14 left. Carr's 2-point conversion pass to tie the game was broken up by linebacker Dylan Cole, though, and Byard nearly picked it off.

Austin Hooper then recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Titans, who took a knee for the win.

"Just the overall feeling of losing is what breaks my heart," Carr said. "I've seen what it takes to win at this level. ... I believe in what we're doing, but we don't have the results yet."

Carr was 26-of-44 for 303 yards and two touchdowns. Hollins had eight catches for 158 yards, and five-time Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams was held to five catches and 36 yards with a touchdown.

Vrabel said the Titans, coming off a 41-7 road loss to the Buffalo Bills last Monday night, would get back to their bread and butter on offense. And on a 12-play touchdown drive to open Sunday's game that was apparent as Henry touched the ball six times, getting four rushes for 16 yards, including 19 on back-to-back carries, and two catches for 26 yards.

The Titans also got the ball to some of their other top players. As a result, they scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions with drives of at least 75 yards for just the third time since 2000, and they led 24-10 at halftime.

It also was the first time the Raiders allowed three straight such touchdowns since a 44-7 loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 11, 2009.

The Raiders tried switching gears in the third quarter, but after burning a little more than eight minutes of game clock, they had to settle for a second field goal by Daniel Carlson, a 32-yarder. Even after safety Duron Harmon picked off a pass on the Titans' ensuing possession and returned it 11 yards to the Tennessee 31, the Raiders wound up punting.

A holding call on right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor wiped out a 29-yard pass by Carr to Darren Waller on the first snap of that series. Adams couldn't get both feet down on a catch, then they were flagged for a delay of game, backing them up even more. Carr's pass to Brandon Bolden was stopped for a 2-yard loss.

Another plus: Tannehill was sacked just once, late in the game, despite being protected by an offensive line missing three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan, who placed on injured reserve Saturday.

It was also impressive because the Raiders now have five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones, who was playing for the Cardinals in the 2021 season opener when he sacked Tannehill five times and forced two fumbles in a rout of the Titans in Nashville.

An offensive line that began the season with two new starters seems to be coming along.

“That’s a big thing, and I’m glad we did that,” Titans center Ben Jones said. “That was a nightmare for us a year ago.”

Tennessee linebacker Zach Cunningham — who was on the injury report with an injured knee — went straight to the locker room with an injured elbow in the third quarter, and cornerback Kristian Fulton went down with 1:22 left in the game.

The Titans visit an AFC South rival next Sunday, taking on the Indianapolis Colts (1-1-1).